Indo-Pacific: A priority for the European Union

Given its increasing demographic and economic importance as a driver of global growth, the Indo-Pacific has become a key priority for the European Union and its member states toward achieving a stable, prosperous, and rules-based multipolar global order.

Although finding themselves on opposite ends of the globe, the futures of the EU and of the countries of the Indo-Pacific are inextricably linked in terms of trade, development, and responding to global challenges. It is for this reason that the EU and several countries have adopted their respective strategies for cooperation and engagement in the region.

In 2018, France — itself a nation of the Indo-Pacific through its overseas territories — was the first EU member state to define its Indo-Pacific strategy supporting a regional order that is open, inclusive, free of all forms of coercion, and founded on multilateralism and respect of international law.

Germany and the Netherlands have also crafted their respective strategies as all EU member states are collectively contributing to the EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific published in September 2021. The EU Indo-Pacific Strategy provides a framework toward the deepening of Europe’s engagement with its partners in the Indo-Pacific, including the Philippines.

In order to translate this framework into concrete action, the Ministerial Forum for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific was held in Paris last Feb. 22. The forum gathered for the first time ever the foreign ministers of the 27 EU member states, 33 Indo-Pacific nations, as well as several regional organizations, including the Asean.

We welcome the participation of Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. in the Forum’s security and defense roundtable. Indeed, the EU and France join the Philippines in upholding the Unclos and the rule of law in maritime security and safety, and look forward to deepening bilateral cooperation, as well as regional cooperation with the Asean.

Cochaired by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission Josep Borrell and French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, the ministerial forum ended on a productive note, resulting in commitments toward the increased and long-term engagement of the EU and its member states on the following aspects:

Security and defense. The EU committed to expand its coordinated maritime presence to support stability and security, optimize naval deployments, promote the coherence of European action, and facilitate information exchange and cooperation with partners in the Indo-Pacific through joint maritime exercises and port calls, among others. This includes the promotion of maritime domain awareness, particularly through the Critical Maritime Routes in the Indo-Pacific project, which is currently being carried out with the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard.

Connectivity and digital technology. Through the Global Gateway initiative, the EU will support the deployment of secure and sustainable quality infrastructures, fostering the resilience of global supply chains and strengthening the decision-making autonomy of the EU’s partners in the Indo-Pacific. The ministerial forum was also the occasion to present a Joint Declaration on Privacy and the Protection of Personal Data in favor of strengthening trust in the digital environment. We hope that the Philippines can soon endorse this Joint Declaration.

Global issues. The discussions in Paris centered on joint action in favor of climate change adaptation and mitigation and sustainable energy transition through programs such as the Green Team Europe Initiative, as well as biodiversity preservation and ocean protection.

Russian aggression in Ukraine reminds us that the 21st century is very much facing the tragedies we wish belonged to the past. However, Europe will not shy away from its ambitious and necessary international agenda.

Now more than ever the European Union is committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific. We look forward to continue working with the Philippines, Asean, and other partners in the Indo-Pacific in order to transform regional challenges into opportunities for deeper cooperation for the benefit of our peoples.

c* * *

Luc Véron is EU ambassador and Michèle Boccoz is French ambassador to the Philippines.

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